The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"The Volcanic Apostle of Pacifism"
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and Sophie) Died For You

Greetings, billion-eyed audience, on this splendid autumn Sunday in Richmond. Yesterday I finished reading the above-pictured book. If you're just joining us, you may not know of my fascination with the thread of events that led up to the outbreak of World War I.

Morton applied a novelist's handling to the years 1913-1914 in Vienna and gives you a front row seat to the tumultuous passage of an entire world. You cannot do anything to stop the events, but watch, helpless.

I possess a profound sadness about the uselessness of this conflict and the more than 10 million people the cataclysm consumed. The War birthed Modernism which was stirring prior, but also propelled the careers of Hitler, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin -- and Sigmund Freud, all of whom, and many more, appear in Morton's inspired narrative history.

But the most tragic character here is its most humanly realized: the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The dynastic successor to the old and ailing Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, Ferdinand wanted to convert the fractious nation into a federalized union that would grant greater autonomy to Serbia. This undertaking didn't have universal support among some of the old guard and Ferdinand may have found himself in an unseemly uncivil situation.

Ferdinand was a blusterer who didn't have the charm and charisma demanded by Vienna. Ferdinand likewise possessed little affection for Viennea due to the court's dismissive attitude toward the Archduke's wife Sophie. She didn't have enough royal bona fides to please them. Thus, when in Vienna, Sophie was treated like a lady-in-waiting; she couldn't ride in a car next to him, nor sit in a theater box by his side. Further, their children would not e allowed to ascend the throne.

A major reason Ferdinand went to Sarajevo to watch military maneuvers (during the Serb nationalist St. Vitus Day holiday) was because of he and Sophie's marriage anniversary. And, outside of Vienna, they could appear in public as a royal couple. I confess, until reading Morton's book I thought of Ferdinand as something of an oaf. Self-indulgent, yes; but that he was a bit of a boor was more-or-less Vienna's "official" view of him and not a fair characterization.

I found myself wanting to sneak into events during April-May 1914 when the revered Franz Joseph lay ill with deepening pneumonia. He recovered, though with just about 30 months remaining to his life, and witnessed the wild fire spreading that he realized was likely to end his nation. Had Franz Joseph gone out gracefully in late April '14, and Ferdinand risen to the wobbly throne, it is possible that the coming disaster could've been forestalled. Thing was, Gavrilo Princip and his Black Hand co-conspirators had already seleccted Ferdinand as their target.

Princip and his colleagues regarded Ferdinand as an oppressor of their people. They had no idea of the regular and furious discussions and communications with which he engaged the Emperor and military commanders on behalf of Serbia. He realized that any attack on that small nation would arouse Russia, and preciptitate the embroiling of all Europe. Franz Ferdinand foresaw that calamity and strove in his way to forestall the eventuality. And for that, he got shot in the neck and his beloved wife slain alongside him.

Thinking now of our present-day's numerous crises, and how many of them have their genesis in the maelstrom of World War I, the incalculable loss to our existence is astounding. Paired with Modris Ecksteins' excellent The Rites of Spring: The Great War and The Birth of the Modern Age, which I read a few months ago, you will find yourself gazing up wistful and nostalgic into the late afternoon sun for a world that could be a radical departure from the one we know. Perhaps no less callous, or crass, or more gracious and kind, but quite different, perhaps in significant -- and better ways.

For one major thing, Mesopotamia would not be such a cauldron of trouble right now, though at the brink of World War I, both Britain and Germany were jousting for access to the newly realized oil resources there. And there was France, too. But long as the Ottoman Turks remained viable, the Western powers couldn't just go and outright reconfigure the region to suit them.

Thus, I advocate the prevention of World War I. But I think that'll require some kind of time-space portal that I'll have to create, to allow me the pleasure of an alternate reality. A European war, or a few of them, was inevitable in the early 1900s. But its scope and scale could've been mediated.

I want to walk down a bosky boulevard in a very different 2008 and hear the conversations at café tables, overhear their concerns about current events, and wander among the shadows of a different sort of shade.

Vienna waits for you.

A program note: the "Return" key of my keyboard is shot, thus, I need another set of keys. This may delay another posting until later in the week.

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At 6:38 PM, Blogger **¤ ¤** said...

well the solution is simple ..
your next keyboard has to have a return key with optional time/space continuum ..

At 6:48 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Hey, that could be an entry point for a about "eternal return..."


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